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Gallatin National Forest proposal fails • Daily Montanan

The issue of wilderness designation in the Custer Gallatin National Forest has been discussed for several years at the suggestion of a group called the Gallatin Forest Partnership. The proposal will be repeated this spring.

Many of us noted that the CFP proposal fell short of projected needs in many respects.

While it has been proposed to provide vast areas for a variety of recreational activities, insufficient wilderness area has been recommended to ensure the survival and biodiversity of the many species of wildlife, some of which are endangered. Even worse, there has been a failure to acknowledge and project the reality of the climate change we are now facing.

Some of us personally knew our visionary leaders who, as early as 1977, sought to protect large swaths of wilderness in this magnificent region. With some major successes but in a short period of time, they secured the protection of a number of “wilderness study areas” and trusted that our generation would come forward with worthy proposals for permanent designations that would meet their vision of maximum acreage and protection. For us and so many, this is on par with other commandments that inspire us to rise to the challenge. We are likely the last generation that will have the opportunity to provide maximum acreage and protection, and the first generation that will have to witness and live with many of the grim realities of climate change.

As we consider land use tools to protect our ancestral values ​​and dreams, it is helpful to note that we are not bound solely by wilderness designations. Over the past year, we have heard discussions about two alternatives – national monument status and a national park. A “Greater Yellowstone National Park” could connect the two ecosystems without major disruption and strengthen the protection of wilderness areas. Park rules have already been established and the results of the park administration speak for themselves. Wildlife, fisheries and ecosystems come first and are adequately protected. Every year millions of visitors travel through the park, but in a focused and not overly disruptive manner. Bicycles, horses, snowmobilers and hikers all have easy access while preserving true solitude for posterity.

Most important when considering the future of this ecosystem today is the aspect of climate change. Before reaching the so-called “tipping point,” scientists issued a “code red” warning three years ago. But business continued as usual, carbon emissions continue to rise, and the planet is hotter than ever before in history. This month, scientists note that we are now in “uncharted territory,” with even a massive shift in ocean currents a frightening possibility. Protected landscapes such as wilderness areas are crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change. Wilderness and WSAs are critical habitats for understanding landscape vulnerabilities and potential resilience, and offer greater opportunities to conserve biodiversity and provide adaptation and mitigation measures, including enabling population migration to new areas. We cannot lose them and should not be willing to release them all, but rather try to protect them all.

Even if we are unable to turn this climate ship around, we at least have the power – and the duty – to protect our still-wild landscape as best we can, for as long as we can, and as responsibly as we can. Let this be our calling.

However – and hopefully for all interested parties – we believe that our first obligation in 2024 is to focus on elections, the results of which are critical to whatever vision happens in 2025.

Dorothy Bradley is a former state representative and Democratic candidate for governor of Montana; Mike Clark is a retired conservation activist. Jeanne-Marie Souvigney is a conservation policy advisor. and John Varley is the retired chief scientist of Yellowstone National Park.

Anna Harden

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